I remember seeing posts a year or two ago from various Piety Posse members who were attempting to draw proverbial lines in the sand. In these posts, they stated that they didn’t want certain people in their religion. Mainly, these people would be those who didn’t honor the gods in a certain way. People who didn’t give the offerings they deemed proper. People who didn’t practice their religion in exactly the same way that these people believed to be “fit”.
It is funny that we draw our lines in the sand over offerings. Over shrine adornments. Over UPG and personal interpretations of myths. We draw lines over things that are personal aspects of each person’s religious practice, and are relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
We are okay with drawing lines in the sand over people who we deem as being disrespectful to the gods. But we have no qualms accepting people into our fold that are being disrespectful to our co-religionists.
I find this to be contradictory in a lot of ways. The first being that gods are supposed to be these really big, bad, powerful beings (by most accounts). So you’d think that a big, bad, powerful being would be able to reach down and tell someone to stop being a twat-waffle if it was really that important to them. It seems to me that the gods could manage their own devotees and if it was a big problem that their devotee offered them Wonderbread instead of some all organic, whole wheat, dolphin-safe bread, they’d let them know. I don’t see why gods need to rely on humans on the Internet to dictate personal religious preferences and choices.
But the bigger issue here, I believe, is that if we were to start drawing lines in the sand regarding toxic and bigoted people amongst our community members, we might be forced to take a closer look at ourselves.
And looking in the mirror can be scary some days. Who knows, you might find that those very people you are speaking out against are embodied in some of your own actions, and then you might be forced to reflect and change your behaviour.
It’s much easier to speak for what a non-physical being may or may not want. It’s very simple to sit down and say “XYZ deity said that you should do ABC and that’s that” because the gods live in a completely different plane of existence. They can’t simply come down from their temples and homes and manifest in front of a group of people and say “No, Johnny, that’s actually not what I said. Can you please shut your yap and quit telling people that I said that.” Talking about what we believe the gods do and do not want is simpler because there is no way to prove someone wrong. I could tell you that Set said that he only wants the finest booze for every single offering you ever give him ever again- and no one would really be able to prove me right or wrong.
The best a deity can do is go to another devotee, tell them the skinny, and hope that the devotee will make a counter point to the original statement, and that people will listen (“Actually, Devo, Set told me that we can offer him whatever”, for example). But even then, if Sally says “Johnny, XYZ deity came to me and said that you’re full of shit and to stop saying that”, it doesn’t take much for Johnny to find a way to discredit everything Sally has said and then we are back at square one.
So basically, it seems to me that many people often speak for the gods because gods are the low hanging fruit in a religious community. For all intents and purposes, they can’t stand up for themselves and tell people when a mouth piece is full of crap and people take advantage of that. I think this can manifest in many ways from what is considered proper offerings to proper shrine structures to what we should be wearing when in shrine to what is considered proper etiquette when part of a religion. We touch on all of these relatively frivolous things because there is no way for anyone to really call someone out on the impudence of their statements.
However, when we start talking about more physically tangible, serious topics- the dynamic of the conversation changes. When we start talking about people and the rights of our fellow co-religionists, the whole game changes because these tangible, physical people can actually publicly respond to you. And that is powerful in ways that gods simply are not.
You see, if I start talking about how racism is bad and we need to combat it, but then I turn around and make a racist comment- physical people can actually call me out on it and raise a fuss. If I make post after post after post about how we need to be respectful to one another, and I start acting like a dick somewhere, people will call me out on it, and I will lose my credibility and stance in the community.
You see, when I actually choose to talk about physical people, those physical people can tell me if I’m full of crap. And that’s something the gods can’t openly do.
This is pretty easy to see when a certain BNP wrote a while back about “proper” offerings to the gods. In this post, the BNP made statements about what is considered “proper”, but also made a lot of inflammatory racist and classist comments as well. In terms of offerings, it was harder to really say anything, because outside of what we can infer from historical texts, it’s really up to personal interpretation as to what is “proper” when it comes to offerings. Because what the gods ask of me in terms of offerings may be very different from what the gods ask of someone else.
But those racist and classist comments? Those are easy pickings. Why? Because people are able to actually respond to the commentary that was presented in the post (where as gods can’t say anything). On top of that, it’s not difficult to include facts, data, and statistics in a response that helps to reinforce what you are saying. Get enough people involved, and it can become a tidal wave that ends up destroying your credibility in the community at large.
And so because of this, I think a lot of people purposefully avoid talking about the topics that are truly important and difficult within the community because to do so would not only leave us open to real criticism, but it would also force so many of us to take a look at our own biases and bigotry. Gods forbid we actually address the things that are effecting our co-religionists. Gods forbid we actually do something to help the fellow human beings we are experiencing this thing called life with.
Gods forbid we actually put people before gods for once.
I want to challenge the idea that the gods are the most important factor in a religion. Yes, it’s true that the gods are important- they usually play a pretty hefty role in most people’s religious practice, and they are pretty cool to work with. However, people are just as important as the gods, and I believe that in some cases, people are more important than the gods. And I think that’s easy to see because almost nobody is actually talking about humanitarian issues in the community at large. And it leads me to wonder if no one is talking about these issues because they are actually very difficult to discuss, especially if you happen to be participating in groups, posts, and activities that perpetuate the oppression you’re supposedly against.
When you start talking about human rights and humanitarian issues, you have to actually look at yourself and make sure you’re not perpetuating things that go against these issues. Going back to the beginning of this post- you have to actually take a long, hard look in the mirror, analyze what you see, and then actually change your behaviour to walk the walk.
And I don’t think many people want to actually do that. They’d rather tackle the simple stuff that can’t really be challenged.
From my perspective, our religion is nothing without our co-religionists. The gods can’t survive off of an audience of one, they need more people in order for their cults to be successful. And our people are only as successful as the network we create as fellow humans. If our network puts our people down, our people can’t be successful and people will actively avoid joining the religion or engaging the gods because the social dynamics are horrible. As I said in my post about compartmentalization– when one of us suffers, we all suffer. And it’s near impossible to to practice a religion that doesn’t support you as a whole person. And when you make your religious space not only open to everyone who is respectful, but make it safe for everyone too, the gods benefit because there are more people giving them bounty. They benefit because more people will want to worship them. They benefit because the people benefit (which is a pretty common theme in ancient Egypt- the King is the head priest of Egypt, and his role is not only to care for the gods, but to care for the people of Egypt).
If I had to draw any lines in the sand, I would have to draw them in between myself and anything that doesn’t support our fellow humans. It wouldn’t be over offerings or shrines. It wouldn’t be over UPG or myths. It would be over people, and whether you are treating people well. The fact that so many pagans can’t seem to understand how important our people are shows that we certainly have a problem with our priorities; as well as a lack of understanding as to how religions actually survive beyond a single generation. People are the gods best asset, and to draw our lines over anything less seems silly to me.